Process 3: Conducting Community Surveys
After last month’s post, you should now have a Steering Committee in place. Have you hosted your first committee meeting yet? Let us know on our Facebook Group!
Once your committee has met, start making use of the resources they provide. That is, tap into their knowledge and connection to the community at-large and their representative community subsets (elders, youth, students, staff, veterans, and so on). Do this through one initial step in the project development process: have the committee members assist with defining problems or areas of improvement that the community wants to address.
Conducting a survey is a starting point for getting that information from community members. Well-developed surveys can provide information on community priorities and concerns. Your steering committee will be a valuable resource in putting the survey together and suggesting strategies for its distribution. Committee members can also encourage the community to return surveys, using their connections to promote survey completion and submission.
Surveys ask a group of people a uniform set of questions. Answers to these questions help you and your committee to understand what the community wants to see changed or improved. They also can identify long-term goals that the community wants to see accomplished as a result of those changes.
Provide an introduction to the survey. Let participants know you are interested in finding out about community priorities and barriers to accomplishing priorities. Give some examples of long-term goals (housing, employment, education, income for example) to get them thinking about long term goal areas.
Surveys can be either open-ended questions that leave space for answers to be given, such as these examples:
- “What is the most important long-term community goal we should focus on?”
- “List the three biggest barriers preventing us from reaching that long-term goal:”
- “What do you think is the most serious problem facing our community?”
- “Do you experience any problems on a daily basis that may also affect other community members?”
- And so on….
Or, closed-ended questions that require a specific response, such as these examples:
“Select the two most important long-term goals that we should be focusing on from the following list:
- All community members have access to decent affordable housing
- All community members have access to permanent, living wage job
- Our youth can access vocational training or post-secondary education opportunities
- Community elders live in safe housing that is designed to meet their needs
- Comprehensive health care benefits are available to all community members”
“Prioritize the following issues to be addressed in order of highest priority to lowest priority:
- low household income
- school drop-out rates
- geographic isolation/access to essential necessities
- inability to join workforce/continue education
- inability to engage in basic healthcare
- over-crowded/sub-standard housing
- high rates of unemployment”
“Do you feel that the issues described below affect you personally? Yes or No?
- household income: Yes / No
- education: Yes / No
- transportation: Yes / No
- childcare: Yes / No
- healthcare: Yes / No
- housing: Yes / No
- unemployment: Yes / No”
“Rate the importance of the following community goals on a scale of 1 to 5:
- household income
And so on…..
And finally, make use of surveys to uncover community assets as well. Include questions that ask what strengths exist within the community that could be used to address the problems survey-takers are identifying. This could be the last question of your survey, such as:
- “What resources in the community are you aware of that could be used to address the three highest priority areas you identified above?”
It is recommended that surveys include both open- and closed-ended questions so that individual input can be considered. And be sure to plan for time to distribute, collect, and analyze the surveys. The survey process can be as short as two weeks and as drawn out as 2 or 3 months. So get started – the sooner, the better!
Advantages of survey research are:
- Can be distributed to a random sampling of the community
- Results are statistically more reliable than other processes
- Areas of high and low community support can be easily determined
- Relatively low costs for implementation
- Gives guidance to best action to take
Disadvantages of survey research are:
- Difficulty in getting returns of surveys (consider an incentive to increase the likelihood of surveys being returned, such as prize drawings for those who participated)
- Community members may resent surveys
- Wording of questions need to be carefully reviewed to ensure clarity
If you have not held your first meeting with your steering committee, now is the time to do so!
Discuss with your steering committee if a community survey is right for you:
- Should you do a community survey?
- In most cases, your answer will be yes! Community surveys can bring community opinion to light.
How will you reach community members?
- Paper surveys are simple and can reach many different people, but may be difficult to distribute and collect. Consider passing these out at community gatherings or in concentrated areas like at elder centers or health centers.
- Electronic surveys through platforms like Google, Surveymonkey, and many others are free and easy. They can reach many people, so long as they have access to internet. Consider sending these to your organization’s listserv, social media, and your committee members’ family and friends. Have survey takers share the link with others in the community.
- Telephone surveys may be quick and easy, but they are not anonymous! Keep this in mind if you are collecting sensitive information. If your survey is a quick 2 or 3 questions, this might be the fastest way to get answers.
What information do you want to know?
- What questions will you ask?
- Keep surveys short, sweet and to the point!
Who will review the data collected?
- Electronic surveys tally results for you, but other methods may need someone to put a spreadsheet together.